Thursday, January 05, 2006

The case for a police state in America

When Molly Ivins writes about the NSA's domestic monitoring, even the few who read her work will assume that comments about a "police state" are a rhetorical flourish. Cheney wants a more powerful president, but surely he does not seek a police state? That makes no sense.

Or maybe it does.

Imagine (scary thought) that there are people like me who work in government. Imagine that in October of 2001 they were asked to fully consider the implications of the 9/11 attack, and the even more novel anthrax attack that came later. (Anyone remember the anthrax? No, I didn't think so.)

Imagine that they produced something like this. To be precise, not the somewhat chaotic web page, but rather a set of nicely bound reports containing one important idea.

The idea that the real problem was not al Qaeda.

The idea that the real problem was that falling cost of havoc. The notion that in a world where exponential growth in wealth and technology was providing the offensive capabilities of nation states to small groups and even individuals.

Imagine that Cheney read that report, and believed it. In this imaginary world al Qaeda is a wake-up call for a much bigger and intractable problem. A problem too big and scary to discuss broadly, or to seek public input on. Alas, Cheney would then miss out on a lot of alternative ideas and paths one could follow, but he's a politician. He probably understands the capabilities of the American public better than I. He may believe that only a few, only the strong, should bear this burden and carry it to the logical conclusion.

The logical conclusion, or at least one of them, is to implement ubiquitous surveilance -- to monitor and to act pre-emptively. Not just al Qaeda -- because they're yesterday's threat. PETA could be a big threat tomorrow. Since the justification of this action is too grim to present publicly, the surveilance must be secret, and centrally controlled. The law cannot be changed without revealing the deeper issues, so the law must be broken. In other words, a police state must be implemented.

I won't say what path I would have taken had I Cheney's power. I don't think it would have been the path I've outlined, but obviously I would have taken those imaginary reports quite seriously.

I wonder if America is ready to talk about the real problems we face, and what our options are. No? Sigh. Too bad, but I think you're right. Then a police state it shall be ...

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